Note: I’ll be discussing light plot elements of the first two books in this series.
Life can be defined by its purpose. For those who dedicate themselves to a singular cause, their life’s trajectory can be traced back to the original goals they’ve set for themselves. But what if that defining purpose was not under your control, but planted by another, higher power? A natural reaction might be to reject this forced line of thinking, but what if you’re completely unaware of no longer being control, and these new thoughts feel organic in nature? It’s a frightening scenario: being purported into a set path, while losing all semblances of your old self. These themes of purpose and destiny are just scratching the surface of what M.D. Presley has to offer in his latest flintlock fantasy novel, The Glass Dagger, book three of the Sol’s Harvest quartet. The Glass Dagger is Presley’s most focused and revelatory book of the series, as well as its most thought-provoking. It’s also his best.
The first book of the series centered on Marta as the events of her past is interwoven throughout the present timeline. Luca was the focus of book two, and we also learned of his origins while advancing the main story. Once again, Presley crafts The Glass Dagger as a dual-timeline narrative, but the subject is a surprising one: Graff, the deadly hunter that has been tasked with killing Caddie throughout the first two novels. To this point, we hardly know anything about the man other than his cold, emotionless demeanor, his unmatched abilities in Breath manipulation, and his unblinking penchant for murder. He is less a man than an unwavering force of destruction, only stopping to rest when his legs give out each night. How did he get this way, and how does it relate to the story at large?
As we learn about Graff’s history, I never reached the point where I related to or supported the man, but I did begin to understand him. Early in the story we discover how Graff’s destiny and purpose are manipulated by outside forces which reprogram his mind. He becomes the vessel of another being’s will, a human tool that never questions his orders. As this series serves as an allegory to the American Civil War, I equated Graff’s plight with how some soldiers may have felt on the battlefield: following orders to march, to fight, to defend, to die, with little agency of their own. The big difference here is that the soldiers are aware of being told what to do, while Graff’s mind is rewired to think that he never felt any different in the first place. Not only does this outside force control Graff’s present, but it also rewrites Graff’s past. It’s a chilling theme that both fascinated and horrified me throughout the story, while also starting to provide answers to the many, many questions that have piled up since book one.
This was one of the many strengths of The Glass Dagger – it tackled heavy themes of identity, family, destiny and purpose while also delivering payoffs to some of the saga’s greatest mysteries. It is also the most tightly-focused of the three books, as there are very few ancillary characters we meet outside of the core cast we’ve been following all along. I appreciated Presley’s self-awareness to spend time uncovering the truths of the various complexities of this story. Other authors may have tried to save all major revelations for the final book in the series, but I think this story greatly benefits from Presley’s decision to reward readers with some major answers now while setting up the pieces for the final volume.
Another interesting aspect of the book that stood out to me is the fragility of all the relationships in the story. For Marta, Graff, and Luca, their greatest enemies are their own relatives. Marta loves and protects Caddie but barely trusts her, and there is no one she hates more than her brother. Luca is a survivor and will destroy everyone and everything he loves to stay alive. Graff is betrayed by his family, his allies, his teachers, and his generals, as none will provide him with a two-way human relationship he desperately seeks. Even Graff’s relationship with his deity is brittle and untrustworthy. He is constantly viewed and used as a tool, a means to an end, operated by expert strategists with unclear agendas that treats its own citizens like prisoners of war. His zealotry is manufactured, his madness a foreign seed that breeds alien thoughts and actions. Every relationship is facilitated, every thought questionable. (Yes, Graff’s story has crawled inside my own head and has been rewiring my views ever since.)
I could spend a lot more time highlighting the many impressive aspects to Presley’s work, but I’ll close by saying that Sol’s Harvest is a criminally underrated and under-read series, and you should read it. The world-building isn’t just detailed in exposition, it becomes lifelike because of how well it’s integrated with the characters’ actions. There are harsh realities with no clear choices, and moral dilemmas with no definitive answers. This story offers both horror and hope for our anti-heroes as their destinies shift and their purposes re-align. It’s rare that I come across a penultimate series entry without having a general sense of how this story will end, but this is one of those series. The only unsurprising thing about The Glass Dagger is how good it turned out to be. The subject of book four remains a mystery, but thankfully we’ll only have to wait until this summer to find out how it all ends.
Review by Adam Weller
8.8/10 from 1 reviews
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